A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early April, 1987


Friday, April 3, 1987

9 PM. Last night I made the mistake of reading about 60 pages in my Roman history text before going to bed.

I ended up obsessing about what I’d read, and the names of emperors – Caracalla and Commodus, Domitian and Diocletian, Pertinax and Elagabalus – kept running through my head.

It was almost as if I was hallucinating, and I couldn’t sleep because of it.

Up at 10 AM, I got a phone call from Teresa while I was eating breakfast. Last evening I’d left a message for her.

She called from work because she had to let me know the new trauma in her life.

It seems that Phyllis and Anna had been acting kind of standoffish lately, and Teresa couldn’t figure out what was going on. They’d also been highly critical of her, she said, and since Anna moved to her new apartment, she hadn’t been over to Teresa’s once.

Well, on this past weekend – the last one in the Berkshires, when she needed their help in moving and getting ready for the renters – Anna and Phyllis were not helpful and went off to get laid one night.

In the morning, Teresa put the guys they’d brought back to work, and since Norton was coming and he and Teresa would have Monday to work, she didn’t really mind.

Tuesday night Anna and Phyllis called to tell her that the following morning they were planning to quit their jobs at Richard’s agency and join some old friends in another one.

They didn’t want or ask Teresa to join them, though they had in recent weeks given Teresa’s number to other friends who unsuccessfully tried to get Teresa to work with them.

I don’t quite understand the dynamics of it. The girls claimed they were trying to spare Teresa’s feelings.

Anyway, they had a series of hysterical hang-up screaming phone calls, and on Wednesday, Teresa refused to talk to them.

Although Teresa doesn’t see it, it’s part of a pattern familiar to me: she meets a new friend, becomes exceptionally close, and then has a fight with them or, to be more specific, feels that they’ve betrayed her. And it always comes as a surprise to Teresa.

It’s happened for years, going back to Sharon, and I’ve seen it with Amira, Fern, Bruce and Lori, her Fire Island housemates, etc.

Part of it is that Teresa’s insecurity and inability to be alone makes her cling and smother, and it’s very difficult for these people to be honest with her.

Also, except for Amira, none of these people are especially nice: though I tried to like them, I found them kind of creepy.

Teresa, of course, is now sorry she gave Anna the other apartment and is contemplating revenge.

When I told her she shouldn’t act rashly, Teresa agreed that Anna knows some things – like that Teresa once slept with Norton – that could be damaging if revealed.

Because Teresa has to see Phyllis and Anna in Fire Island, she really should try to remain cordial.

Meanwhile, Michael got his car back from her by threatening to call the police; before that, he carried through with his threat to call Teresa’s mother and sister to tell them the problems he was having in dealing with Teresa.

At least she now finally realizes the relationship with Michael is finished. Poor Teresa.

Naturally (not that I flatter myself), she says she’s looking forward to my arrival even more now.

I don’t know if I can handle being in the midst of all of Teresa’s problems, but after eight months of living alone in Florida, I probably am more up for it than I otherwise would have been.

Four weeks from tonight I’ll be in New York. Probably things will work out.

Teresa does have a job this year that will take her out of the apartment on weekdays, and she’ll be gone weekends once Fire Island starts; I can also escape to Grandma’s in Rockaway once a week or so.

Actually, I miss the West 85th Street apartment very much. I also long to be in Manhattan and to see my friends again: Ronna, Alice, Josh, Justin, Susan, Pete, Harold, Mikey and Amy, Stacy, Scott, etc.

I also feel comfortable with the idea of returning here, especially since I know I don’t have to rush back to attend school in late August.

New York will be a change for me, and I thrive on change. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my last four weeks in South Florida.

I’m definitely in favor of this cool weather we’ve been having. Our record low temperatures are still warm enough so that I can go without a jacket during the daytime hours.

I spent this afternoon at the Broward Community College computer lab, starting work on my Higher Ed exam, completing one of the four questions (each answer is about three pages) and making outlines for the others.

Robert left me in charge of the lab for over an hour. I only wish I’d taken more blank disks, for I pirated LOGO (Apple) and Think Tank, an outline and idea processor.

After driving Robert home at 5 PM, I went to meet my parents for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

They’re still struggling to pay their bills even though Dad has written $3,000,000 in orders for Bugle Boy; the problem is that the company ships only a fraction of those goods because of labor, manufacturing, and credit problems.

Well, I’m staying afloat financially, thanks to my crazy credit card chassis. Working a little helps, too.

Sunday, April 5, 1987

8PM EDT. Unable to get to sleep Friday night, I managed to drop off at about 7 AM Saturday and woke up in time to exercise with the Body Electric TV show.

Figuring I could postpone lifting weights till today, I went to the BCC computer lab, where I managed to write out two more of the Higher Ed exam questions into a crisp six pages. Now I have only one question out of four left: that’s no more than another hour or so of work.

I’ve got my Roman History paper and Higher Ed presentation ready for tomorrow, and I can see daylight as far as my coursework is concerned.

The “daylight” metaphor may be appropriate today, the first day of the earlier-than-usual daylight savings time. It stayed light till nearly half an hour ago, but the day seems like it began very late.

Successfully working on the paper helped make this a pleasant weekend, but I also enjoyed the record cold weather that made things brisker than usual.

Yesterday I got a letter from the Rockland Center for the Arts, an arts center in New York State, that said I was their first alternate choice for Writer-in-Residence, and if either of their chosen writers backs out or is disqualified by the New York State Council on the Arts, I’ll get the position.

Naturally, the chances of my being called on are slim, but I do appreciate being so high in the rankings of what the executive director said was a field of excellent writers. Maybe this shows how desperate I am for validation, but this gives me confidence.

For the past six months I’ve had only the Florida Review and the Between C & D acceptances to boost my spirits. Every other attempt I’ve made at being noticed as a fiction writer or teacher of writing has met with total rejection from the NEA and Guggenheim to about 60 colleges and dozens of little magazines.

Small as this comfort is, it will help me go on.

The book publishing industry is now the scene of the kind of takeover frenzy that has rocked other industries. Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Harper & Row is the latest in a series of big acquisitions, often by foreign companies.

The Doubleday editor may have thought my work was “marvelous,” but Doubleday is now owned by a West German conglomerate, and books of short stories by writers like myself are clearly not in demand.

Maybe if I were a young, hot newcomer, I’d fare better, but it’s to my disadvantage that I have a track record – and after three books, I’ve not had commercial success, not by a long shot.

At least if I’d never been published, I might be snapped up because someone might think I’d sell well.

If the bottom line and the blockbuster syndrome became the norm in the mid-1970s, the New York publishers – none of whom will likely be independent by 2000, according to a Times business-section article I saw today – will be even less hospitable to writers like myself.

But of course I’ve dealt with that fact all of my writing life, and I feel I can still make a career in the small presses, which is where literature has to move.

I spent last night in Davie, and although I couldn’t fall asleep early, I slept a long time, waking up after 11 AM today. (Of course I lost an hour overnight.) I worked out and read the newspapers and potchkeyed around much of the day.

The newest scandal involves our Marine guards at the Moscow embassy; apparently a number of these guys succumbed to the charms of female Soviet spies, whom they allowed access to many top-security rooms.

On top of the Walker and Pollard spy cases, this latest is a disaster. Interesting, isn’t it, that in the age of our super-patriotic, pro-military President, so many military people are selling national secrets for money or sex.

So now we have this Marine spy scandal in addition to the Iran/Contra affair, Wall Street insider trading and the scandals involving TV evangelists. Yes, it’s satisfying to see these chickens coming home to roost.

Monday, April 6, 1987

9 PM. Today went swimmingly until just an hour ago when I went to Albertson’s and left one of my MasterCards in their teller machine. I discovered my goof as I was checking out my groceries.

It’s no tragedy: I called it in as lost, and then there’s a block placed on the account so I don’t get billed if the person who found it tries to use it all over town.

If the next person to use the ATM was honest, he or she would have turned it in to the store manager.

The real pain is that being so careless offends my sense of mastery. If I were thirty years older, I’d probably worry I was getting senile. The reality is that I was tired after a long day and got distracted.

It was a stupid move, but I’m entitled, once in a while. I lost a Visa card around Christmas of 1985, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s just that I pride myself on being organized.

Of course, I’m not superhuman. In any case, my cash advance maxed out my credit line, so if anyone uses it where they call in, the card purchase won’t be approved. Also, I noticed the loss within ten minutes and called it in right away.

Maybe if I’d slept better last night, I would have been more alert today, but I couldn’t fall asleep, and I had to be up at 9 AM to get to school.

In Roman History, we learned about the decline and fall of the Empire and handed in our papers. Now that it appears I’m not going to get my student loan, I see I really didn’t need to take this course.

Without it, I would have had more time to write. I’m tired of going to school, and this summer at Teachers College will be the end of it. I’ll either get a loan and take six credits or I won’t and I’ll take two credits so I can use the computer room and keep up my computer education.

Next fall, wherever I am, I will not be a student.

Today I learned I’m not going to be at the Millay Colony: they wrote and said I’m on the waiting list for the fall, but I think that’s just them being polite to a former fellow.

MacDowell seems to do the same thing. If I don’t get into MacDowell, there’s VCCA, but I might as well either teach in New York or stay there till October and hope Sophie will have Teacher Education Center workshops for me when I come back to Florida.

In Higher Ed, I gave my report 0n trends in higher education over the last decade, and people told me how interesting I was. I’d put a lot of work into it, so it was good to feel that the report was appreciated.

I now have to write the answer for one more question for the Higher Ed final, study for and take the history final, and do the work for my A.I. class.

I really need to make up my sleep tonight, but I usually have a hard time on Monday nights.

Wednesday, April 8, 1987

9 PM. Last night I was again hit with my famous insomnia.

Years ago, I always had trouble falling asleep. Now I go to sleep more easily but wake up 30 minutes or an hour later and then can’t get back to sleep for the rest of the night.

(It’s interesting, isn’t it, that I write about “going to sleep” and “getting back to sleep” as if sleep were a place, a physical destination.)

At least I tried to make constructive use of my time: I read, I prepared for today’s workshop, I cleared out my drawers.

But when the Herald was delivered at 5 AM, I was still up, and I didn’t fall asleep until after I’d read the paper and had a bowl of cereal. Probably I slept from about 6:30 AM to 11:30 AM.

Feeling awful, I didn’t know how I’d get through the day, but my energy level surprised me. I was alert and enjoyed my workshop at Gratigny Elementary in North Miami.

These teachers really are a good group, and one of them was writing an incredibly sophisticated BASIC program already.

She reminded me what a joy it is to have a bright student, one who can grasp concepts immediately, put them to use, and then build on that knowledge to go further.

For me, teaching computers is very satisfying.

I had stopped off in Davie to pick up my mail before class. My student loan agreement finally arrived from C & S Bank.

I should be getting about $2000, and although FAU didn’t have my check yet, the loan period ends before the month does, so I hope to be able to collect the money before I leave Florida. We’ll see.

Crad writes that he’s now at war with his landlady. He’s either decided not to move or has just given up looking for a new place.

I admire Crad’s spirit tremendously: his desire to keep on writing, keep on selling his books on the street and triumph over the literary establishment.

However, the guy is extremely neurotic, a social misfit, and almost babyish in his narcissism. To become the writer he is, Crad has also become a very peculiar person.

Look, I’m peculiar, too, but I can relate better to people and I think I’m not so self-involved. I know that the world is unlikely to be awed by me. Hey, I’m lucky just to get people’s attention for a few minutes at a time.

I like life best when I feel active in society, optimistic, and positive. I’m pretty certain that I’ll never achieve great recognition as a writer, but I’ve accepted that by now.

Oh, shit – I sound so pompous, but I just want to live my life, have fun, and be a good person.

Crad was alarmed at my credit card schemes: “Don’t you have nightmares about ending up a bankrupt??!!”

I laughed at that: “a bankrupt”; Crad is so old-fashioned. He says his new-found resolve vis-à-vis his landlady has made him less dependent on Gwen and made her more admiring of his strength, “which, according to nature, is how things should be.” Huh?

Why is it so easy to see our friends’ mishigass and yet our own hides from us?

Take Josh, who called last night. Several times in the course of our conversation, even when we were on other topics, he asked, “So do you really think I’m negative?”

It was pathetic how he was so anxious to hear confirmation that he’s not going to get AIDS. Would I have reacted the same way?

Josh says the AIDS test experience has changed his life because he now realized he’s going to die.

“But you always knew that,” I said. “You watched your own sister die.”

“Rich,” Josh said, “no matter how close you are to somebody else, it’s still not you.”

Well, that’s probably very true.

Josh said he no longer thinks about chasing women but wants to settle down with just one woman. And he wants to have kids; when he thought he tested positive and was told he couldn’t have children, it drove him crazy.

Me? I just want a good night’s sleep one of these days. (No, Yogi Berra didn’t say that.)

Today was so beautiful out it almost hurt: cloudless sky, high of about 72°, perfect weather.

Thursday, April 9, 1987

9 PM. Last night I got to sleep after 3 AM, but at least my sleep was satisfying.

From the Sun-Tattler’s preview, I see they’re running my “Fab Florida Congress Guys” satire this Saturday. Again, they’ve picked the mildest of the pieces they have on file.

The reading comprehension tests, the awards for censors, the Ibsen Festival plays, the Ollie North parody, and the Legislators in Love pieces all hit harder than the last three columns they’ve published.

I’m undecided whether to continue writing the columns because I’ve got this gut feeling they’re not going to publish some or all of the other five they’ve got.

On the one hand, I like having a guaranteed outlet for my work, and I think I’d like to do columns that would probably be acceptable to the paper: something about my 1984 Presidential campaign or a memoir of the 1972 Democratic Convention.

On the other hand, I resent being censored – although at this point I have no evidence that the Sun-Tattler is holding back, just a fairly good gut reaction.

Anyway, upcoming is my eleventh column, and assuming they print one on April 25, I’ll have an even dozen columns to take with me to New York.

I just got off the phone with Ellen, Ronna’s friend. Ellen and her friend Fred are interested in working on a film or video of my stories.

Ellen said she doesn’t know exactly how they’d work, but she said they have a strong narrative voice and perhaps could be acted out simply with voice-over narration.

We’ll get together in three weeks, when I’ll be back in New York and living around the corner from Ellen; she says she’ll have worked up something by then.

Ellen told me she feels stifled at work on the CBS sitcom Kate and Allie. Her friend is a talented director, she said, who does a news show in Westchester and has done several MTV videos.

I’m not going to get excited or talk about this to anyone, because it’s likely nothing will come of it, but again, as with the Rockland Arts Center thing, it’s gratifying to be recognized.

I was in Kendall early today, but the conditions for the TEC workshop at Green Glade Elementary were again terrible.

Today was the last day of classes of the quarter, and the teachers needed time to get their grades in for report cards by tomorrow. So I had people running in and out, and a janitor was vacuuming the carpet even as I tried to teach.

To top it off, all the computers were unplugged and put into storage.

I managed to get one machine on which to demonstrate LOGO and to give each teacher a chance to try some commands for herself.

Instead of heading home after letting the class go at 5 PM, I drove into downtown Miami to see Bayside, the brand-new Rouse Company marketplace on Biscayne Bay, where the old library and Bicentennial Park used to be.

Even in the old days – and I mean three years ago – the view of the bay was splendid, and the colorful marketplace takes advantage of the setting.

I’ve been to South Street Seaport, which is kind of plastic and artificial, and I imagine the other Rouse projects – Baltimore’s Harborplace, Boston’s Faneuil Hall, etc. – are the same.

New York City has real urban spaces that attract people, but Miami doesn’t, especially not downtown, so this didn’t offend me the way South Street Seaport did.

It was good to see a mix of all kinds of people – Hispanics, blacks, Yuppies, the elderly, little kids and teenagers – most of whom were nicely dressed.

The stores are the usual overpriced upscale specialty shops like The Limited and The Sharper Image, but the architecture is very responsive to the site on the water, and the food places are varied; the burger I had at Beverly Hills Burger wasn’t bad.

The place made me long for the kind of urban crowds I see in New York all the time.

There were street performers brought in by management – jugglers, unicyclists, mimes, a salsa band – and at 6 PM, it was light enough and mild enough to make for a very pleasant scene.

I stayed a couple of hours, then headed up I-95 to my apartment.

Wow – I see Friday is the hundredth day of 1987. Incredible how fast it’s flown.